Bitch in a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the Stiffs, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps (Volume 1), by Robert Rodi—A Review  

Bitch in a Bonnet, by Robert Rodi (2012)From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Compiling his thoughts on the first three of Jane Austen’s published novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park, author Robert Rodi fires a broadside at the swooning, sugary sentimentality of the modern Jane Austen fan craze.  He is appalled that such a group has turned a witty, sharp-tongued wonder into trite purple prose and slapped her silhouette on a t-shirt. Forging ahead for over four hundred pages, he dissects these Austen novels chapter by chapter, line upon line, precept upon precept highlighting a lack of romance and a decided prevalence of comedy and insight into the human condition.

I would like to give an early warning that this is not a book for those who have never read these novels. Though, it might be argued that it is exactly for those who are still considering them. My warning is for those who prefer to go into their books without spoilers and no undue influence because, reader, the author most definitely means to influence and discuss with thoroughness each character and each event and he does.

Bitch in a Bonnet begins with an explanation and a warning. Rodi doesn’t plan to take anyone by surprise or leave anyone in question of his purpose in writing his book. He basically shouts out ‘There be dragons here!’ And, I suspect for some, his method of discussion might be just that. I would be lying if I said I never had the urge to bop him on the head for trashing some of my favorite characters or scenes or that I have a decidedly differing opinion on matters, particularly in Mansfield Park.

In colloquial turns of phrase and a great preponderance of cultural idioms, he dissects each of the books in his own chapters that tackle the novel’s chapters in about five-chapter sections. His sardonic humor and often sarcastic turn of phrase can be highly amusing (read, laugh out loud funny) and, once in a while, wearying (he can belabor his point now and then). Continue reading

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical, by Helena Kelly—A Review

Jane Austen Secret Radical 2018From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Was Jane Austen a radical? Was she sympathetic to the “radical reforms” of Charles James Fox and others that included universal male suffrage, the abolition of slavery, and women’s rights? Few would readily place her in the company of Thomas Paine, William Godwin, or Mary Wollstonecraft, but perhaps that is because she kept her dangerous views so well hidden that most of her contemporaries, as well as later generations, have missed them. While I began reading Jane Austen, The Secret Radical with an open but somewhat skeptical mind, I was curious to see what evidence Helena Kelly would provide. In Chapter 1, she throws down the gauntlet: 

We’re perfectly willing to accept that writers like [William] Wordsworth were fully engaged with everything that was happening and to find the references in their work, even when they’re veiled or allusive. But we haven’t been willing to do it with Jane’s work. We know Jane; we know that however delicate her touch she’s essentially writing variations of the same plot, a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in any romantic comedy of the last two centuries.  

We know wrong. (4%)

Kelly cites a number of reasons for what she calls the misreading of Austen, including a lack of reliable biographical information about Austen, the destruction of most of her letters by her sister Cassandra, and a concerted effort by surviving family members to reframe Jane’s life and creative endeavors along more conventional and non-threatening lines. Delays in the publication of her early works obscured themes that were rooted in the upheavals of the French Revolution and the literary phenomenon of the Gothic novel. Add to these the many film adaptations and biopics that have nearly overtaken the original novels in the consciousness of the current age:

When it comes to Jane, so many images have been danced before us, so rich, so vivid, so prettily presented. They’ve been seared onto our retinas in the sweaty darkness of a cinema, and the aftereffect remains, a shadow on top of everything we look at subsequently. (10%) Continue reading

A Preview of The World of Sanditon: The Official Companion, by Sara Sheridan

The World of Sanditon, by Sara Sheridan (2019)Welcome to Sanditon, an 1819 Regency seaside community in Sussex England—the fictional site of the new ITV/PBS television adaptation/continuation of Jane Austen’s final unfinished novel.

For those who are watching the eight-part series currently airing in the US on PBS, The World of Sanditon, by Sara Sheridan will be catnip to heighten your addiction. A copiously illustrated behind the scenes look at the making of the new television series, it also is filled with a biography of Jane Austen, historical information on the era, seaside life and health resorts, and Regency life for women.

In addition, there are spotlights on the characters and interviews with the actors who brought them to the screen. Here is a description of the book from the publisher Grand Central Publishing, details on the content, and images from the production for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Sanditon, the final novel Austen was working on before her death, has been given an exciting conclusion and will be brought to a primetime television audience on PBS/Masterpiece for the very first time by Emmy and BAFTA Award-winning screenwriter Andrew Davies (War & Peace, Mr. Selfridge, Les Misérables, Pride and Prejudice).

This, the official companion to the Masterpiece series, contains everything a fan could want to know. It explores the world Austen created, along with fascinating insights about the period and the real-life heartbreak behind her final story. And it offers location guides, behind the scenes details, and interviews with the cast, alongside beautiful illustrations and set photography.

SANDITON SLIDESHOW:

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CONTENTS: Continue reading

The Lost Books of Jane Austen, by Janine Barchas — A Review

The Lost Books of Jane Austen, by Janine Barcas (2019)Today is #JaneAustenDay, marking the online celebration of her birthday. Born on a stormy night in 1775, she was the seventh child of Rev. George Austen and his lady Cassandra of Steventon, Hampshire. Her modest beginning stands in strong contrast to her international fame today. In observance, I am participating in a blog tour organized by TLC Blog Tours for a new Austen book worthy of your consideration, The Lost Books of Jane Austen.

Scholar Janine Barchas and I share a passion for Jane Austen and book collecting. In the early 1990s, I started my search for illustrated editions of Jane Austen’s novels, while she was hunting for the early inexpensive editions of Austen’s works that were marketed to Britain’s working-class folk. At the time I was actively collecting I was unaware of this niche of Austen’s novels, and until I read the description of this book, I did not know that they existed. However, Barchas presents the important story of these forgotten books in The Lost Books of Jane Austen, a heavily illustrated and informative new book for Jane Austen fans, book collectors, graphic artists, and Anglophiles.

Chronicling the print history of a classic author through the nineteenth century could be a very dry enterprise and more scholarly than the general reader could fathom. I am happy to share that there is much to celebrate and enjoy for all levels of readers in The Lost Books of Jane Austen. Barchas knows her audience, and like a skilled playwright, screenwriter, or novelist she starts off her exploration with a snappy opening line. ”Cheap books make authors canonical.” Zing! Continue reading

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion, by Hilary Davidson — A Review

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen, by Hilary Davidson (2019)“Fashions come and go; bad taste is timeless.” — Beau Brummell

So saith the arbiter of style in the Regency era when all of Jane Austen’s books were published and she and her characters dwelled. Since fashion is mentioned sparingly in her novels how is one to know, two hundred years after the fact, what is fashionable and what is in bad taste? Is that actress in the current period drama wearing clothing appropriate to the era, her age, and her social status? Is the hero wearing a top hat that Victorian author Charles Dickens would have worn? Is that pelisse polyester, and is a half “updo” hairstyle totally inappropriate? Dress in the Age of Jane Austen, by Hilary Davidson explores these dilemmas for modern readers of Austen’s fiction, the adaptations of her works, and those set during the same timeframe.

When I first opened this book and skimmed its pages, I was overcome by its beauty. Page after page of eye-popping images of Regency clothing, portraits, landscapes, fashion plates, and cartoons by famous artists and illustrators of Austen’s day. The publisher states that the book boasts 180 full-color illustrations, and I do not doubt it. Here is a slide show of a few that I found especially significant to give you a glimpse of the extensive research that the author conducted to bring the book to life.

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Preview of The Official Downton Abbey Cocktail Book: Appropriate Libations for All Occasions, by Annie Gray, and Foreword by Julian Fellowes

The Official Downton Abbey Cocktail Book (2019)“Drinking is very important at Downton Abbey. At least three types of wine are served at every upstairs dinner, plus port for the gentlemen after it. There’s alcoholic punch at parties, plenty of Champagne, and, as the years go by, the gradual adoption of the cocktail.”

And so, begins the introduction to The Official Downton Abbey Cocktail Book by food historian Annie Gray. Continuing, she goes on to describe the mention of American-style cocktails in season two, which takes four more seasons before we see the very proper British butler Mr. Carson reluctantly serving them to the Crawley family and their guests at a pre-dinner gathering. A cocktail party? Are the shades of Downton to be thus polluted? The Dowager Countess of Grantham is shocked. We are amused.

It is her granddaughter Lady Edith who embraces the consumption of alcohol in the series. Living a modern life after being jilted at the altar by Sir Anthony Strallan, and then alone after her lover Michael Gregson moved to Germany in order to renounce his British citizenship so he could divorce his mentally ill wife and marry her. That was the plan until he was murdered. Out of all the main characters in the series, Edith deserved a drink.

There is so much emotional tension swirling in Downton that the audience has needed this cocktail book since the series opener in 2010. Here are more details about the book including a description from the publisher and a slide show of several of the beautifully designed pages.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Timed to coincide with the much-anticipated Downton Abbey movie, this enticing collection of cocktails celebrates the characters, customs, and drinking way of life at Downton Abbey.

Cocktails were introduced in the drawing rooms of Downton Abbey in the 1920s when US prohibition inspired the insurgence and popularity of American-style bars and bartenders in Britain. This well-curated selection of recipes is organized by the rooms in the Abbey in which the drinks were served and spans everyday sips to party drinks plus hangover helpers and more. In addition to classic concoctions like a Mint Julep, Prince of Wales Punch, and Ginger Beer, this collection features character-specific variations such as Downton Heir, Turkish Attaché, The Valet, and The Chauffeur. The recipes reflect drinks concocted and served upstairs and down, as well as libations from village fairs, cocktail parties, and restaurant menus typical of the time. Features 40+ color photographs, including drink images photographed on the set of Downton Abbey.

A LOOK INSIDE:

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AUTHOR BIOS: Continue reading

Blog Tour Launch of There’s Something About Darcy, by Gabrielle Malcolm

There's Something About Darcy, by Gabrielle Mallcom (2019)For over two hundred years, Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy has been an enigma and an idol—prompting Pride and Prejudice fans to re-visit the novel, create books and movies, and inspire writers to model their own heroes after his noble mien to relive their time with him in the original novel.

What is it about Darcy that makes him so admired, igniting passionate debates? Is he an arrogant snob, or a shy introvert? Why does his character arc in the novel move some so deeply, and anger others? Why do some actors excel in their portrayal of the iconic hero on screen, and others fail? While the discussions continue, Dr. Gabrielle Malcolm offers insights on all these questions, and more, in her forthcoming There’s Something About Darcy, publishing on November 11, 2019, from Endeavour Quill.

Like Mr. Darcy, this new literary criticism is much more than what appears on first acquaintance. We will not proclaim it tolerable (as he did when he first met Elizabeth Bennet), but declare it as tempting as his £10,000 a year income to any grasping Regency era mother. Here is a description from the publisher and an exclusive excerpt from the author. 

BOOK DESCRIPTION: 

For some, Colin Firth emerging from a lake in that clinging wet shirt is one of the most iconic moments in television. What is it about the two-hundred-year-old hero that we so ardently admire and love?

Dr. Malcolm examines Jane Austen’s influences in creating Darcy’s potent mix of brooding Gothic hero, aristocratic elitist and romantic Regency man of action. She investigates how he paved the way for later characters like Heathcliff, Rochester and even Dracula, and what his impact has been on popular culture over the past two centuries. For twenty-first-century readers the world over have their idea of the ‘perfect’ Darcy in mind when they read the novel and will defend their choice passionately.

In this insightful and entertaining study, every variety of Darcy jostles for attention: vampire Darcy, digital Darcy, Mormon Darcy, and gay Darcy. Who does it best and how did a clergyman’s daughter from Hampshire create such an enduring character?

A must-read for every Darcy and Jane Austen fan.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT:  Continue reading

A Preview of Downton Abbey: The Official Film Companion, by Emma Marriott, with a Foreword by Julian Fellowes

Downton Abbey: The Official Film Companion (2019)Downtonites have been patiently awaiting the arrival of the Downton Abbey movie since its official announcement in the summer of 2018. The possibility of a feature film of the phenomenally popular British period drama television series had been rumored (and wished for) since the final episode of season six aired in the UK on Christmas day in 2015 on ITV and in the US on Masterpiece Classic PBS in March of 2016. We just cannot get enough of those posh upstairs Crawley’s and their devoted downstairs servants, can we? It took four long years to reach the big screen. Its premiere in the UK and the US this past September garnered major media attention and red-carpeted events.

My further hopes and wishes were granted with the publication of Downton Abbey: The Official Film Companion, a tie-in, over-sized, coffee table book featuring gorgeous full-color images from the production, interviews with the cast and crew, historical and social context, and insights into the storyline. Take a deep breath and a shot of brandy. This is very heady stuff for those devotees of the series around the globe.

Haven’t seen the film yet? Take heed and avert your eyes. I would not want to spoil one spectacular moment of your enjoyment. For those who have seen it, the book allows you to relive many of the special moments, fabulous costumes, idyllic scenery, and witty dialogue we were privileged to experience. Here is more information about this special volume for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

The official tie-in book for Downton Abbey, the full-length feature film.

Downton Abbey: The Official Film Companion is a stunning memento, bringing the world and the characters of our favorite fictional country house to life. Featuring spectacular photographs from the production, interviews with the cast and crew, and a look into the historical and geographical backdrop of the film, this official guide to the Downton Abbey film is made to be treasured and loved by fans across the globe.

The film revolves around the King and Queen making an official visit to Downton in 1927, and not only sees the return of all the main cast from the final television series but also introduces some great British actors to the world of Downton, as we meet the royal family and their retinue. The accompanying book is lavishly illustrated with stunning shots from both behind and in front of the camera, which capture some wonderful off-guard moments during filming, as well as the original costume illustrations.

AN EXCLUSIVE LOOK INSIDE:

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Jane Austen at Home: A Biography, by Lucy Worsley — A Review

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography, by Lucy Worsely (2017)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

What can the places that Jane Austen called home tell us about the author’s life and work? In Jane Austen at Home, historian, author, and BBC presenter Lucy Worsley looks at the author’s life through the lens of Austen’s homes.  As Worsley notes in the book’s introduction, “For Jane, home was a perennial problem. Where could she afford to live? Amid the many domestic duties of an unmarried daughter and aunt, how could she find the time to write? Where could she keep her manuscripts safe?” (1) Worsley seeks to place Jane Austen “into her social class and time” while admitting that, as an Austen reader and biographer, she has a vision of the beloved author that allows Jane to speak for her and to her circumstances. “Jane’s passage through life, so smooth on the surface, seems sharply marked by closed doors, routes she could not take, choices she could not make. Her great contribution was to push those doors open, a little bit, for us in later generations to slip through.” (4)

Jane Austen at Home is divided into four major sections, titled as acts in a play. I thought this a lovely touch by Ms. Worsley, reminding readers of the Austen family’s love of amateur theatricals. “Act One: A Sunny Morning at the Rectory” covers Austen’s early life at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire (1775-1801). During this period, Jane traveled to relatives’ homes and even lived away at boarding schools for several years. Nonetheless, Steventon remained her place of safety until her father’s retirement forced Mr. and Mrs. Austen, along with Cassandra and Jane, to move to Bath.

Steventon Rectory, Hampshire

Steventon Rectory, Hampshire

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A Preview of The Daily Jane Austen: A Year of Quotes, by Jane Austen & Devoney Looser

The Daily Jane Austen: A Year of Quotes, by Jane Austen & Devoney Looser (2019) coverHot off the presses is a new Jane Austen quote book.

I know what you are thinking. Why do I need yet another pithy volume of my favorite author’s best lines jockeying for position on my bedside table along with my Jane Austen bobblehead and my “Waiting for Mr. Darcy” candle?

Well, …it really helps that this new compilation of daily quotes has been edited by, and the foreword written by, Stone Cold Jane Austen, a.k.a. Devoney Looser, Foundation Professor of English at Arizona State University, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar. Who could possibly be better qualified to compile my daily prayers? (Please. no trolls about my religious beliefs.)

Each chapter opens with a memorable passage heading up the month followed by daily quotes from Austen’s six major novels, minor works, and her letters. In the foreword, Looser extolls upon the significance of Jane Austen’s famous opening line in Pride and Prejudice, so often quoted in the news media, popular culture, and by fellow writers, “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” If you are not familiar with Jane Austen’s most famous quote you must be from another planet and desperately need this book to communicate with humans! (brainwashing included)

My Good Opinion Mug quoting Mr. Darcy

My Good Opinion Mug not included with The Daily Jane Austen, but it pairs beautifully.

Austen and her words have influenced movies, television, books, and world culture. She is indeed everywhere. I am staring at a “My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.” tea mug sitting beside me. I can totally relate to Looser’s admission that her, “…acknowledged truth is that I treasure the “sensibly scented” cardboard Austen that hangs in my car, just as others embrace their dashboards Jesus, fuzzy dice, or mud-flap girls.”

Okay, Enough with the Austen pop culture palooza. Here is the publisher’s stuff.

DESCRIPTION:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is eminently, delightfully, and delectably quotable. This truth goes far beyond the first line of Pride and Prejudice, which has muscled out many other excellent sentences. So many gems of wit and wisdom from her novels deserve to be better known, from Northanger Abbey on its lovable, naive heroine—“if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad”—to Persuasion’s moving lines of love from its regret-filled hero: “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late.” Continue reading